2013 DOC NYC Filmmaker Profile: Chuck Workman (Director – ‘What is Cinema?’)

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Chuck Workman’s documentary ‘What Is Cinema?’ tackles the question of its title through over 100 clips and new interviews with Mike Leigh, Jonas Mekas, Yvonne Rainer, David Lynch, video artist Bill Viola, Robert Altman, Kelly Reichardt, Costa-Gavras, Ken Jacobs, Michael Moore, critic J. Hoberman, and others, and with archival interviews from Robert Bresson, Alfred Hitchcock, Chantal Akerman, Akira Kurosawa, Abbas Kiarostami, and more. The film also includes commissioned sequences from experimental artists Lewis Klahr and Phil Solomon.

Find More Information and Tickets to ‘What is Cinema?’ at the 2013 DOC NYC on Tuesday, November 19 @ IFC CenterHere

What is Cinema?

What was your philosophy behind discovering and utilizing the immense amounts of archival footage for this film?
I was primarily looking for films that contained artfulness in the way they used the tools of cinema, and which weren’t primarily entertainment or story-telling devices.  Many of the filmmakers  included are personal favorites, or their films are, but I found that some of my favorites didn’t seem to fit when they were too oriented toward mass entertainment and eventually potential profit. The problem is, movies are expensive, and responsible filmmakers want to create a return for their investors. Most of us feel this way, even the experimental filmmakers, but it should never be the primary requirement.

What is Cinema?In your opinion, how does the medium of cinema differ from other visual art?
Cinema uses pieces of time, to use an old cliché. It uses actual pieces of reality.  A painter has line and color, a musician has sound. We have the actual, even when we use it artificially. It’s a lot to work with.

Can you give an example or two of truly cinematic experiences from the last decade?
I made a film about Jonas Mekas recently and got to really know his films. I think his very direct method of making films from his own life is extraordinary.  He continues to do this to the present day.

Abbas Kiarostami melds together the real and the fanciful, using documentary and story, in a self-reflexive way that I never saw before.

Mike Leigh continues to amaze me. Like a painter, he found his own style early and continues to enrich it.

Each of the above all create a form of art, although through very different cinematic means.

What is Cinema?Where does the documentary form in the spectrum of cinema?
To quote Mekas, everything in cinema is real. Even when Brakhage paints on the film, the colors are real.  Actors are real people pretending to be someone else. So given that, documentaries, if they go beyond reportage, are forms of cinema without the pretense of made-up characters or stories.  But the great ones are just as made-up as a narrative.

Are cinema and technology as intertwined as they are made out to be (sound, color, digital for example)?  In other words, is their no cinema without technological volatility?
Films and technology work together, and technology affects the cinema in many ways, but some form of art is more important in the long run. Consider the cave paintings in Lascaux or the silent films of  Dreyer or the way Kubrick transforms technology into cinema.  The content goes way beyond the technical means of expression.

What is Cinema?



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